Denise Walmsley is in her happy place. Sitting in the beautiful garden of her independent living unit at Strathdon in Forest Hill with her beloved dog at her feet and chatting to her neighbours as they go past.

“It's peaceful here," Denise says. "The birds nest in the trees, the village gardener is always on hand to help dig and put in plants. I'm a great bird watcher, it's just lovely to see all the lovely autumn leaves."

The 87-year-old retired teacher is a people-person. She loves her large family, is close to her friends and is always up for a natter and a laugh.

Since she moved from Phillip Island to Strathdon Community 15 months ago, Denise has already supported Happy Hour with the other residents, set up pancake and sausage sizzle get-togethers and is itching to start a bridge club. "I'm keen to start a book club too, but I don't want to spread myself too thin," she explains.

And her blind and deaf 17-year-old dog, Gem, radiates as much sunshine as she does. In fact, she's a bit of a friend-magnate. "Residents are virtually queuing up to walk her," Denise laughs. "They see me and they call out 'How's Gem?"

Denise also loves the communal social room and says everyone gravitates there for a cuppa and a chat.

Denise, who also has a home care package through Uniting AgeWell, gets help with cleaning, physiotherapy and other services, and also used her package to buy a recliner chair that offers some respite from the pain she feels from osteo-arthritis. She used to do embroidery but had to give that up because of the pain in her hands.

Denise, who has five children, says she's blessed to have had such a happy family life. Her husband died 20 years ago, and while she misses him, her days are filled with reading, doing quizzes and trying to catalogue a vast collection of family photos. And spending time with her large brood.

"All my grandchildren bring along their girlfriends and boyfriends for me to check out," she laughs. "They're keen for me to give them the tick of approval before they take the relationships any further."

And have they passed the test? She starts to giggle. "There was this one boy my granddaughter brought round who asked me outright if I thought he was suitable, and when I said yes, he promptly wanted to call me Gran! I told him I'd be delighted!"

She pours another cup of tea, settles herself comfortably in her chair and smiles around at her cosy little unit. "I'm happy - and I'm very blessed," she says.

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